This guest blog post was written by Nolan Greene, Sr. Research Analyst with IDC’s Network Infrastructure group covering Enterprise Networks.  Nolan can be found on Twitter here.

There is justifiably a great deal of hype around the rise of Software-Defined WAN (SD-WAN). Organizations are becoming more digitized and increasingly rely upon a mixture of public and private cloud-based applications for day-to-day functions. This shift toward digitization has exponentially increased the need for a new networking paradigm for distributed enterprises (organizations that operate with a headquarters and multiple remote locations) as the exponential increase in cloud applications renders legacy remote connectivity options (such as exclusively relying upon MPLS) untenable.

Security is also an important factor in this shift. A breakthrough of SD-WAN is its ability to deploy consistent security throughout the network of branch locations, leveraging integrated next-generation firewalls in many cases. Perhaps, one of the more attractive features of SD-WAN is the ease of management for branch locations. Centralized, GUI-based management interfaces make deployment, troubleshooting, and ongoing management easier.

Distributed enterprises rely on network connections to the headquarters network to support applications such as POS systems (in retail enterprises), unified communications and collaboration platforms, and systems monitoring, among others. As the ecosystem for these applications becomes more complex, a one-size fits all approach to connectivity becomes less effective. Enter SD-WAN, which is revolutionizing branch connectivity through the intelligent and dynamic matching of applications to connectivity methods (such as Internet, LTE, and MPLS). As this promises to improve performance and reduce cost, enterprises have been expressing strong interest in SD-WAN and a number of solutions have popped up, with some emphasizing lower cost.

However, it is important to look beyond the sticker price. It is important to ensure that any potential SD-WAN solution can:

  • Integrate with existing infrastructure and applications while providing the transport options for dynamic path optimization needed by your organization.
  • Support the broader ecosystem–Does it offer service chaining and life-cycle management of individual components?
  • Flexibly scale according to your organization’s needs–Digital transformation requires network agility and linear scalability, so it is important not to defeat the purpose of investing in SD-WAN in the first place.

Despite its status as a newer technology, there is already a wide variety of SD-WAN solutions on the market today:

  • Some leverage existing investments in layer 3 (WAN) and areas such as WAN optimization, and others do not.
  • There are choices regarding on-premises hardware, software that runs on VMs on industry standard hardware, and cloud-based platforms.
  • A fairly robust roster of SD-WAN offerings from managed service providers (MSPs).

Ultimately, the choice comes down to what best supports your network infrastructure and application ecosystem, while providing proper support and tools that can evolve as network and application requirements will inevitably change. There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. Undertake a careful evaluation of current and future needs to help in the selection of an optimal solution that provides dynamic, scalable performance in a cost-effective and secure set of capabilities.

Learn more about the benefits of a fully featured SD-WAN in this IDC report.


Kiran Ghodgaonkar

Senior Manager, Enterprise Marketing

Intent-based Networking Group